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Coronavirus Kent: How Covid-19 pandemic is impacting trade and can I go to the pub

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As coronavirus cases pass 500 and Kent prepares for school closures and the possibility of working from home, spare a thought for the pub landlords whose livelihoods depend on people getting out of the house.

Pubs are gearing up for a slower than usual start to the weekend. Stock picture
Pubs are gearing up for a slower than usual start to the weekend. Stock picture

Friday nights would normally see hoards of thirsty colleagues flock for a refreshing pint or glass of wine but today boozers are gearing up for a slightly different start to the weekend.

This afternoon Boris Johnson announced the next phase of the government's battle plan but schools were not closed, gatherings not halted and businesses not ordered to make staff work from home - despite the fact many already have.

Covid-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization - which means it is now established in numerous countries across the globe - and suddenly the prospect of grabbing a cold one with friends isn't so appealing.

That's according to manager of popular sports pub The Crown in Rochester High Street who says things were beginning to slow down even before today's Cobra meeting.

Pete Kray said: "It's a case of wait and see and playing it day by day. It has been quieter this week. People are not going out but we rely on people coming out.

"And unlike others, we can't work from home."

Pete Kray at The Crown
Pete Kray at The Crown

But the man who is ultimately in charge of The Crown, now owned by Shepherd Neame, says the impact on the company's wider portfolio isn't yet being felt.

While admitting Britain's oldest brewer is concerned about the potential impact of the virus chief executive Jonathan Neame said: "We have seen no discernible change in customer behaviour to date."

He added: "Looking forward, it is impossible at this stage to gauge the likely impact, but should there be significant restrictions on travel and the movement of people in the coming months, that would have an inevitable bearing on our business and our supply chain.

"Over the longer term, the quality and profile of the company’s brands and pubs will stand us in good stead and form an excellent platform from which to grow. We are confident we are building an even stronger business for the future.”

Jonathan Neame
Jonathan Neame

What are pubs doing?

Wetherspoon runs 20 pubs in Kent and keeps the masses fed and watered day in day out.

Spokesman Eddie Gershon said it was business as usual at every branch but the company was deploying certain measures.

“We have communicated to our pub staff and customers that they need to wash their hands regularly," he said, adding: “Our pubs also have noticesrelating to people washing their hands. Contact points, including door handles, are being cleaned on a regular basis.”

Shelly Matthams, landlady of The Coppice in Eastchurch, Sheppey, says she's taking a practical approach and buying in minimal provisions to keep wastage down.

She added: "I went to the cash and carry today and the toilet roll section was virtually empty. It was just the most expensive ones left."

The Playa in nearby Minster is stepping up its war on germs and cleaning all handles, knobs, tables, bars, hand rails and furniture every hour with anti-bacterial wipes. It's also asking customers to keep cash payments to a minimum.

The Thomas Ingoldsby Wetherspoon pub in Canterbury
The Thomas Ingoldsby Wetherspoon pub in Canterbury

Should punters be worried?

The country's chief medical officer Chris Whitty says there is no need for businesses to separate themselves from their customers and pubs are not being told to close.

Evidence as to how the virus spreads is still fairly limited, although the primary location people get infected is their own home according to the WHO's Dr David Nabarro.

However, after that infections also appear to be taking place anywhere people go and spend lengthy times sat round tables indoors near patients, he told The Guardian.

He said: “We are coming across stories where people, for example, have been sitting around a table in a restaurant or bar, where they are closer than two metres, spend quite a bit of time in each other’s company and the amount of time that passes is not clear. That appears to be the next commonest place where infections are taking place.

“That is why restaurants, pubs and churches – churches in particular because of physical closeness – are of interest.”

He also said poor ventilation is a contributing factor and despite large gatherings being cancelled elsewhere it appears open-air events are relatively safe, with people having to be in close proximity to an infected person for prolonged period to catch the virus.

But, he stressed, one of the most effective weapons remains good hygiene and proper "cough etiquette" - coughing or sneezing into a tissue, or if nothing else, your upper sleeze and washing your hands.

Conclusion

While numbers through the doors will likely be down there are no plans to shut up shop at any of the county's watering holes.

Medical advice remains the same - hygiene is key, so scrub your mitts between drinks.

In terms of catching the virus, you're no more likely to in the boozer than at work or at your local church and at the moment you have more chance of being infected at home.

KMTV reports on the outbreak

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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